If you haven’t been greeted by her in the OHS library yet, meet Nellie Mundsigner, a yellow lab and therapy dog who is 2 1/2 years old.
Nellie’s job as a therapy dog is to bring comfort to the people she visits. Nellie isn’t a full-time therapist, and her visits are on occasion to certain locations, such as Oswego High School or memory facilities.
At a young age, Nellie showed promising traits of a therapy dog, and soon started a journey that would come to impact many more people than just her family.
“She kind of just looked like a tiny, little potato. Like a fluffy potato,” sophomore Abby Mundsinger, and one of Nellie’s trainers, says, describing the first time she saw her dog Nellie.
Nellie loves to stick to a schedule and has a daily routine, more organized than some humans.
“She’s up by five o’clock in the morning whether the alarm goes off or not…during most of the day…she lays around and stares out the window,” Drew Mundsinger, Director of Library Media Services, says. “When we come home, we play ball and then by five o’clock at night, she has dinner, and when she gets tired about 8:30 p.m., she walks upstairs and takes herself to bed.”
From the start, Nellie’s family members could tell she was a calmer dog than the usual loud and jumpy puppy.
“She never really was bothered by people she didn’t know petting her or being around her,” Drew Mundsinger recounts. “She listens very well, and she learned commands like ‘sit,’ and ‘stay,’ and ‘lay down,’ and ‘touch’ pretty quickly, and those are some of the traits of a good therapy dog: being able to listen to a command, and know that command and what it means.”
Even with many honorable traits, Nellie still has her puppy moments.
“She is what we call a ‘Wiggle Butt’, so when she meets somebody new, she might get the wiggles a little bit, but she’s only two years old, too, so she still has a little bit of puppy in her,” Drew Mundsinger says.
After a short period of time, the Mundsinger family knew that Nellie’s mellow personality contributed to her being the perfect candidate for therapy dog training, and they decided to begin the process of getting her certification.
“It was a dream of our dad’s, so we just kind of ended up doing it,” Abby Mundsinger says.
According to sophomore Maddie Mundsigner, Nellie completed her therapy dog training in two steps. The first step was the Canine Good Citizen Test.
“We went through a behavioral school for dogs–one you would send your puppies to,” says Abby Mundsinger.
At this school, Nellie was taught basic obedience skills, like walking on a leash and being able to follow her owner’s lead.
“You have to do this all without treats, and so for Nellie, she’s very food-motivated, so that was definitely a fun ride trying to figure that out,” Abby Mundsinger explains.
After passing her Canine Good Citizen test, the next step in the certification process was for Nellie to take classes in order to prepare to become a licensed therapy dog.
“I think it was very beneficial going through the classes, as they had us walk with her next to wheelchairs and walk with her next to distractions,” Maddie Mundsinger says. “There’s 26 things that they test them on.”
Testing topics include: sit/stay, reacting to unusual situations, reacting to children, and many more.
After passing her test, Nellie became a certified therapy dog, and she soon found comfort in the environment at Oswego High School.
“We got Nellie during and so when kids were remote, I would bring her in to work, and so she got really familiar with OHS,” Drew Mundsinger says.
Drew Mundsinger now brings Nellie around once a week to sit in the OHS library to meet students.
“I’ve been taking her to Fox Chase elementary where some of the kids sit and read with her—that’s one of her favorite things to do—and the kids love reading stories to Nellie, so I do that two or three times a month as well,” Drew Mundsinger says.
According to Drew Mundsinger, he is planning to bring Nellie to memory facilities to allow her to connect with older adults that haven’t gotten to be with a dog in a while.
Nellie’s family wouldn’t describe her as the average active puppy.
“I like to call her half-cat,” says Abby Mundsinger. “She likes to lay on our couch and look out the window all day.”
Nellie’s version of a baby blanket is the array of stuffed animals that she cuddles with around the house.
“She loves stuffed animals,” explains Abby Mundsinger. “She’ll always carry one around in her mouth, or she’ll find one in one of our rooms and bring it downstairs.”
Even when Nellie’s ‘off-the-clock,’ her trained skills remain intact at home.
“She likes to tattle on us, like if someone has a candy bar or something that they left on the floor of their room, she’ll find it, and bring it downstairs, and show one of us,” says Abby Mundsinger.
Drew Mundsinger added that, although he’s grown up with many dogs, none have been as calm or as capable of passing the therapy dog exam as Nellie was.
“I find it…a privilege to be able to have a dog that then works with kids and support older adults,” Drew Mundsinger says.
Drew Mundsinger is most thankful for the impact Nellie makes in the places she visits and the people she helps.
“cause everybody smiles when they see a dog,” Drew Mundsinger says. “I think that’s part of the best thing about Nellie…that she can bring a smile to somebody’s face, sometimes, when they need a smile the most.”